Romeo and Juliet | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Romeo and Juliet | Character Analysis

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Juliet

The daughter of Lord and Lady Capulet, and then wife to Romeo, Juliet is the youngest character in the play at 13. As a female and youth, she is powerless to control her own fate. She has given no thought to marriage at the beginning of the play, but within the five days the drama unfolds, she narrowly escapes an unwanted union with Paris and dies as a result of a secret one to Romeo. She rejects her role as daughter to become a wife, going from obedient to disobedient, honest to deceptive, and child to adult.

Romeo

Romeo, the son of Lord and Lady Montague, advances from an immature lover, tortured by Rosaline's rejection, to Juliet's husband. Like Juliet, Romeo kills himself to be faithful to his spouse, even in death. The liberty he has as a young man and a Montague leads to some of the most consequential violence in the play, particularly his murder of Tybalt, which hurries the plot on its downward spiral. As a man Romeo has more control over his life than Juliet does, though his ties to the authorities that guide and rule him limit his power, as do his youth and inexperience.

Lord Capulet

Lord Capulet plays a key role in the drama as head of one of two powerful feuding families whose influence over others results in multiple deaths. Street fights involving everyone from servants to Romeo erupt for the sake of the Capulet family honor. Victims of his and Lord Montague's strife and ineffectual use of power fall throughout the play. As Juliet's father Lord Capulet is sometimes loving and respectful toward her but mostly enraged by her challenges to his authority. His outrage at her attempts to defy him and reject Paris causes him to threaten to disown her and let her starve in the street. Her premature death silences him at the play's end. His flawed authority has been exposed, and he is defeated.

Friar Lawrence

Friar Lawrence, the mastermind who enables Romeo and Juliet's marriage and inadvertently facilitates their deaths, is well intentioned. He responds to Romeo's and Juliet's wants and needs with sympathy. Unfortunately, he contrives elaborate and deeply flawed plans that undo them all, and he shows a lack of moral courage in trying to resolve problems secretly rather than head on.

Mercutio

Mercutio, a young relative of the prince, is one of Romeo's closest friends. Mercutio grows impatient with Romeo when he is sighing over Rosaline and urges him to enjoy himself. Later, when Romeo refuses Tybalt's challenge to a duel, Mercutio is offended that his friend would show weakness. He fights in Romeo's place and is killed. His death prompts Romeo to kill Tybalt in vengeance, starting the string of disastrous occurrences that bring about the final tragedy.

Nurse

Like the friar, the nurse is well intentioned, though with considerably less impact. She inadvertently plays a role in facilitating the tragedy by not comprehending the strength of Juliet's love for Romeo. She assists Romeo and Juliet in consummating their marriage, thereby strengthening that love. Later, when she counsels Juliet to accept Paris as the better man, she earns Juliet's contemptuous rejection. On a happier note, the nurse also celebrates the sexual side of human relationships and especially marriage. Without her assistance Juliet and Romeo would likely not have had a wedding night.

Paris

The young count who has Lord Capulet's attention is critical to the plot but ambiguous in character. Other characters depict him as a man of physical beauty, made of wax and as pretty as a flower; Lord Capulet calls him "gentle." In his one encounter with Juliet, however, he both corrects and directs her, not retreating even when it becomes clear she doesn't welcome his attention. And yet, when she dies, Paris strews flowers outside her crypt, suggesting he has a depth of feeling for Juliet not otherwise evident in the play. (Paris is sometimes referred to as a count and sometimes as an earl. Both titles have the same rank. Count is used in Europe, while earl is used in England.)

Questions for Characters

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